Counter-Terrorism: February 4, 2005


One of the little discussed problems in the war on terror is the difficulty with measuring progress. Case in point is the screening of suspicious ships in international waters. For ships assigned to this duty, the traditional measurement of success is the number of intercepts per month. But this can backfire. By emphasizing quantity, you increase the number of innocent ships you stop and board. This makes mariners hostile to the United States, and less likely to cooperate when it comes to providing intelligence on suspicious ships they might have come across. Thus the emphasis on quantity, which is easier to measure, at the expense of quality of intercepts, backfires in the long run. It has been found that if more emphasis is put on collecting intelligence, you are more likely to find those ships worth boarding. In areas like the Indian Ocean, there are far more ships out there than you can ever board. So to be effective, you want to go after the ones that are up to no good (usually smuggling, not terrorism). This effort, however, is harder to measure, as it is the quality of intelligence that matters the most. When its hard to measure, the bureaucrats have a tendency to fall back on measuring something thats easy to count, but not worth much when it comes to catching terrorists. 


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